Serious Lower Leg Wounds in Horses and Donkeys

March 26, 2020 (published)

We had a client call last week about a horse with an injury to the lower leg and she emailed pictures of the wound.  This horse had a wound at the hock joint that occurred one week prior and was draining lots of material, and she wanted to know if the horse should be seen or not. The horse was not putting weight on the leg.  We said the horse had to be seen.

Horses and donkeys commonly develop wounds that heal without a lot of problems, but lower leg wounds are different that other wounds.  Horses have many synovial structures that are prone to injury on the lower legs, including joints and tension sheaths that are near the surface of the skin, and horses have relatively thin skin compared to the size of the animal.  A small half-inch nail or piece of wire in the wrong location can enter a tendon sheath or joint, and just a tiny puncture there is enough to create an infection.  Although these lower leg wounds may not look very severe, they can be extremely serious and even deadly.

Because of this possibility, any lower leg wound should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. This includes injuries to the foot like a nail or thorn in the foot.  If an infection enters the tendon sheath or joint, immediate care is required to treat the condition.  Some of these cases require referral to a specialist to flush out the joint and tendon sheath, and look inside the structures with an endoscope.  Long-standing joint or tendon sheath infections usually lead to chronic lameness and sometimes cannot be resolved leaving the horse to suffer with chronic pain. 

So, if your horse or donkey develops a lower leg wound, it is not a good idea to only treat it topically and see what happens because the risk is quite high that you may be dealing with a serious wound.  An initial exam by your vet may save your horse’s life.       

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